Tuesday, October 29, 2013

UConn alumni report: Week 8

It was a Sunday to remember for a couple of former Huskies.

Fullback Anthony Sherman had a 12-yard touchdown reception for his first career regular-season touchdown (he had a TD reception in a preseason game in a win over Oakland when he played for Arizona). It was Sherman's fourth game this season with multiple catches as he has helped Kansas City remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.

Sio Moore had a pair of sacks in Oakland's 21-18 win over Pittsburgh giving him three sacks in the Raiders' last two games.

Here's the breakdown of how the UConn products fared last week:

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 15-7 win over Philadelphia
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland : Did not play (leg)
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis: Bye week
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Bye week
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Had two tackles in 35-17 loss to New Orleans
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had five tackles in 42-10 loss to San Francisco
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Bye week
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Returned two punts for 27 yards in 27-13 loss to Arizona
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had six tackles and two sacks in 21-18 win over Pittsburgh
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay: Did not play in 31-13 loss to Carolina
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Bye week
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Caught three passes for 23 yards including one for 12-yard TD
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Did not have a carry in 42-10 loss to San Francisco
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Bye week

North of the border, Larry Taylor surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in career punt return yards and is now 191 yarrds away from becoming the seventh CFL player with 5,000 career kickoff return yards. He leads the CFL with 1,998 combined return yards this season helping Calgary post a 14-3 record and clinch the Western Division title..

Monday, October 28, 2013

Smallwood named Butkus Award semifinalist

UConn junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the nation's premier linebacker.

Smallwood leads the Huskies with 79 tackles and also has 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He has scored double-digit tackles in five of UConn's seven games this season.

The Butkus finalists will be announced on Nov. 26 with the winner be revealed on Dec. 10.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another defensive stinker has UConn contemplating changes

It was a foregone conclusion that the UConn defense was not going to be able to match the numbers it put up a season ago with starting cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and top two sack masters Trevardo Williams and Sio Moore also taken within the first four rounds of April's NFL draft. However, nobody expected the Huskies to have back to back games having surrendered more than 500 yards.

The inability to prevent the big play has been the Achilles' heel of this year's UConn defense.

Through seven games last season UConn gave up 11 runs and 24 pass plays of 10 yards or longer. This year those numbers have mushroomed to 41 and 57 respectively. Wait, there is more. After giving up 15 plays of 20 yards or more including two 40-yard plays in the first seven games of the 2012 season, they gave surrendered 38 plays of at least 20 yards and 8 40-yard plays so far this season. With the next game against a Louisville team led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who ranks third nationally in passing efficiency, and the following contest against SMU and Garrett Gilbert, the national leader in total offense, the bye week will obviously be used to try to plug the holes in the leaky UConn defense.

"We are concerned about it," UConn interim coach T.J. Weist. We felt like we had some depth issues there (in the secondary). We like the fact that we got Andrew Adams back and he has been playing better but we’ve got to tackle better, we’ve got to make better plays. We’ve been out of position and haven’t been playing smart. I feel like we have been perplexing some young guys.

"There are truly fundamental things that we have to get corrected. The effort we think is there but solid football, blocking, tackling, doing your assignment. It is about recognition and combinations that we’ve got to be able to see, putting yourself in position to make plays, make tackles and following through on offense with basic blocking, catching, throwing, handling blitzes. We do it now anyways but there is more emphasis on going back to the fundamentals and starting over. As coaches we are evaluating personnel, who is the best player to put out there? Who is healthy? If not you are getting to the time of the season to see which young guys are playing better. Are they that good or are they getting better or are they not getting better? Those are two things we are going to focus on, just the fundamentals of football. Is it giving the backups more playing time if we feel like the guys who are getting playing time aren’t playing well? Listen, if you don’t win games, you don’t make plays you have to evaluate the personnel because those are the guys who aren’t making plays at any position. That is what we talked to our staff about, evaluate personnel and see where our weak spots and see the guys who have the most M.A.s (missed assignments) or don’t make plays and who we can put there that gives us chance to make plays."

The last time UConn had a bye week there were changes at head coach and quarterback. It will be interesting to see if new starters emerge on defense when the Huskies host Louisville on Nov. 8.

Perhaps Reuben Frank (the only defensive end with a sack this season) could be more than just a third-down pass-rush specialist and the aforementioned Adams could start at safety (which he would have done had he not suffered a shoulder injury in preseason camp), There's a chance cornerback Taylor Mack could return which would allow freshman Jhavon Williams to slide inside to cover the slot but I'm not sure where else the Huskies could make moves on defense. I like what Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann have done at linebacker filling in for starters Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart and think their athleticism helps out the defense when they are in there.

On offense, this is the second straight week that Tim Boyle has been pulled with UConn getting blown out. We'll see what happens but I'd be surprised if they pulled the plug on Boyle after three games. It looked to me like Boyle was overcompensating after being criticized for holding onto the ball too long in the Cincinnati game but letting the ball go as soon as a defensive player got close to him. The problem with that is that the ball was delivered before the UConn receivers were in position to make a play on the ball.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Players aren't only ones being critiqued by UConn coach

Since taking over as UConn's interim head coach T.J. Weist has prided himself with being blunt but fair in his evaluations when he looks at the game tapes. His breakdowns are not limited to just the players he coaches, however.

Weist is aware that the UConn offense, which he is in charge of, has been dreadful for most of the season. So as he watches the footage of the Huskies' latest defeats, he can't help but look in the mirror.

Weist gave serious consideration to handing off some of the offensive play calling duties to fellow offensive assistants Kermit Buggs, Shane Day and Mike Foley although he told the media on Thursday that he will continue to call the plays when UConn plays at Central Florida tomorrow.

"We are going to have some changes," Weist said earlier in the week. "I am going to focus on Coach Buggs, Coach Day and Coach Foley getting more involved in the play calling because me as the head coach I have to focus on the whole team. At times I think it may cost us because of things going on the field and we are a no-huddle team, we have a lot in the flow of the game, lining up so we are evaluating that and are still talking about, we have a great plan for it.

"The truth is our offense is not doing very good, I have been the coordinator since I have been here and we are not very good so I need to improve. I talk about being honest and that is being honest. I am the one calling the show. I am the one calling these plays. Sure our players have to make plays but I have to keep it simple, put our players in the best position and I want to make it enjoyable for the fans, want to make it enjoyable for the players. I want our players to enjoy the game, I want recruits to look at our games and 'say I want to play for that offense, I want to make plays in that offense.' I want fans to say that is an exciting offense. It is not 3 yards and a cloud of dust. My wife sits up in the stands and she hears it all the time, sometimes she calls out the plays. The best one was Jackie Harbaugh. Everybody talks about John and Jim and Jack but Jackie (the mother of NFL head coaches John and Jim Harbaugh), she is probably the most competitive of the whole group. She sits up in the stands, she calls plays and she gets after the coaches if they aren’t getting the plays in on time and being very critical. I understand when you are in college football, you want it to be exciting offense, you want to have an unpredictable offense and the biggest thing is you want an offense to score."

With Weist saying that his wife calls out plays from her seat, I couldn't let that pass without asking him what kind of play caller she is.

"She is probably better than me, she can probably call better runs. I may have to try her out this week."

On a serious note, UConn is 0-6 and staring at 0-8 with games coming up against Central Florida and Louisville. A year ago the Huskies rose to the challenge when they went on the road and upset nationally-ranked Louisville. However, in two road games this season the Huskies have been outscored 82-28 so there is the potential for tomorrow's game to get ugly.

"Players are not down, they are excited," Weist said. "They are together and I have been pleased by their response with us in us keeping them together in an 0-6 situation because they know that so we will get that changed around in everything we do is focused on this team and getting a victory this weekend.

"We are settled and we know the direction. In the locker room after the game you never know how a team is going to react after 0-6 and after a loss like that. Against South Florida we really felt like we beat ourselves and against Cincinnati it was more of a combination of them beat us and at times we beat ourselves. We didn’t stop them, you don’t know how they are going to react in the locker room, they are very positive, very upbeat, they were disappointed, they were mad. You can’t accept losing under any circumstance because as soon as you accept it, it is going to happen again so we will never accept it. "


Thursday, October 24, 2013

UConn as GSR of 65

The NCAA released the Graduation Success Rates today and it was a case of some good news and some bad for UConn.

UConn had a GSR of 65 percent for the years 2003-06 which is 11 percent above the Federal Graduation Rate listed in the report but of the nine years listed on the NCAA site, it is the lowest mark and the fifth straight year that UConn's GSR has dropped.

Taylor Mack looking iffy for Central Florida game

While linebacker Graham Stewart is expected to be back after missing the last four games with a high-ankle sprain, it is not sounding good for cornerback Taylor Mack to get onto the field for UConn on Saturday.

"He tried to go a little bit and really couldn’t do much so he is going to be a game-time decision for us," UConn interim coach T.J. Weist said on a conference call earlier today. "He has not had much contact this week so we are not sure if he is going to go."

Freshman Jhavon Williams is set to make his fourth straight start at cornerback in Mack's absence.

Although Stewart and Ryan Donohue, who were starting linebackers before getting injured, are both expected back against UCF Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann figure to be the starting outside linebackers.

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Veteran UCF offense to challenge struggling UConn defense

Like so many others UConn safety Ty-Meer Brown was captivated by the events transpiring in last week's Louisville/Central Florida game.

The Huskies' second-leading tackler watched the majority of the game and saw redshirt junior quarterback Blake Bortles bring UCF from 21 points down to stun previously undefeated Louisville with 31 points in the final 18:02.

"I didn’t catch the whole game as we were in meetings but I caught the majority of it," Brown said. "It was a big-time game with two great teams that came down to the wire, it was exciting."

Aside from the pure entertainment value, Brown came away impressed with what he saw from the offensive playmakers on the Central Florida team.

One running back (Storm Johnson) ran for more than 100 yards and had 79 more yards on four receptions while another (true freshman William Stanback) ran for 65 yards and two TDs. The Knights also had six different receivers with multiple receptions.

Coming off a nightmarish defensive effort in a loss to Cincinnati, Brown knows the Huskies need to be better this week.

"It is going to be a challenge for our defense as a whole, our line getting to him and making him a little unsettled and the defensive backs being able to cover longer," Brown said.

"We have to make sure we cover well on the back end so we give the defensive line to get to the quarterback."

Redshirt freshmen Jhavon Williams and Obi Melifonwu struggled against Cincinnati as it looked as if the Bearcats targeted the two least experienced members of the secondary.

"They are still in there, they are still young and they are still learning," Brown said. "We have faith in them because if we didn’t they wouldn’t be in the game and they are going to continue to grow. Experience is the game is going to give these guys confidence and allow them to play better.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Special honor for former UConn star

Former UConn defensive back Darius Butler will have his number retired by Coral Springs Charter tomorrow.

"He's just had a tremendous impact on this school," Charter athletic director Mike Higgins told the Sun Sentinel. "He's given back in so many ways; we felt it was the right thing to do."

Butler played at UConn from 2005-08 and was a four-year starter who had 10 interceptions. He was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. After playing 29 games and starting eight times in two seasons, he was cut by New England. Butler played the 2011 season with Carolina and has been with the Indianapolis Colts for the last two seasons. 

This season Butler had 18 tackles and two interceptions. In 18 games with the Colts he has six interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.

Indianapolis is off this week which will allow Butler to be in attendance when his number is retired. His brother Denzel is a senior receiver/defensive back on this year's Coral Springs Charter squad and he has 24 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns to go with three interceptions with 7-1 Coral Springs Charter.


Boyle trying to deal with the pressure

Nobody ever promised freshman Tim Boyle that taking over as UConn's starting quarterback was going to be a walk in the park.

After nearly coming away with a victory against South Florida in his first career collegiate start Boyle ventured into rougher waters in Saturday's loss at 2012 co-Big East champion Cincinnati.

Boyle threw three interceptions and was sacked eight times in the 41-16 loss.

Boyle took responsibility for the mistakes that he made against the Bearcats.

"I put a lot of those sacks on myself just not going through my progressions as fast as I can," said Boyle, who was 22 of 39 for 310 yards. "I think our offensive line did a great job of protecting me, everyone sees the stat of eight sacks and they are in awe. I think a key thing I have to do is keep getting up from the sacks and showing the team that I can take them and keep getting up.

"One interception I left it inside, the one by the goal line was just me being a freshman and throwing the ball up. That is something I am going to have to learn from and the last one, I just left it short. I think I could have had a touchdown to Shak (Phillips) on that play but that is something I have to learn from."

Boyle didn't have to deal with a ton of pressure from opposing teams during his days at Xavier High. His tendency to step up right into the area where the defensive pressure is coming from is just one of the areas where Boyle knows he needs to improve.

"It’s a double-edged sword because I feel like if I make a lot of mistakes, I learn from those mistakes but at the same time I don’t want to make those mistakes and do the right thing," Boyle said. "It is hit or miss, either I do the right thing and it looks really good or I don’t do the right thing and I learn from it. I think I did more bad than good in the game and that is something that Coach Weist (has talked about)."

When quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were squaring off in a highly-anticipated showdown on Sunday night Weist called Boyle and suggested that he not only watch the game but also see how the two quarterbacks are able to step up in the pocket and make throws down the field.

"You sit there and watch the game the other night with Peyton Manning, you watch Luck and Manning and you watch them step up into the pocket and they are throwing the ball as they are getting hit," Weist said. "I talked to him about it and you see them handling pressure because everybody has pressure, you look at the sacks that are happening in any league. You see pressure, how does he handle it? How does he secure the football? How fast does he make decisions? How fast does that ball come off his hands in those situations? That is where he has to learn from that last game that he had pressure and he has to learn to make that decision and let that ball go before the pressure closes in on his and how to move around in the pocket with that pressure. The pocket is always changing and any good defensive coach is going to do a good job of learning what our pocket is and how to put different pressure angles on it so that is what he has to do."

UConn is last among 123 FBS teams by surrendering 5.17 sacks per game and future opponents are going to see how Cincinnati was able to harass Boyle and attempt to do the same thing.

"When we didn’t handle it earlier, they kept bringing the pressure," Weist said. "The overall speed of the game is what he is learning. It is different from high school because it is always faster and they bring pressure, they bring pressure again and they keep bringing pressure. It is not just handling it once, it is handling it again and again and again. That is what he learned in this game, that is where he was deficient in this game than against South Florida. He didn’t handle the pressure as well and it happened in some critical situations, down in the red zone. Some of the sacks were due to him taking one more step, not throwing the ball on time. He has to trust that when he lets that ball go that the receiver is going to make plays. He held the ball a couple of times which cost us and other times we went empty and we had hot throws that he didn’t really see and he has to work on. He will get better at that."

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Samra reflects on first start at UConn

With the cardiac issue preventing starting right guard Gus Cruz from making the trip to Cincinnati for Saturday's game, one of the more promising offensive line prospects on the UConn roster got to make his first career start.

Sophomore Tyler Samra had his moments but he was also replaced a couple of times by senior Tyler Bullock, who is listed as the starter for Saturday's game against Central Florida. Still, Samra knows that the experience of going up against one of the best defenses in the American Athletic Conference can only be a helpful situation moving forward.

"Going into your first college start you are a little nervous, you have some nervous jitters but after the first play happened it was smooth sailing from there," Samra said. "I definitely learned (the) strength, speed (of the game) and the difference between that and practice. I got a bunch of pretty good feelings of what to expect whether it is this year or next year..

"Getting a little experience was great, even my freshman year going into the UMass game which a lot of people thought I should have redshirted but I respected the coaches’ decisions and I learned a lot from going into that game. I think everything has a positive outlook on it."

With four starting offensive linemen for the UCF game being seniors, Samra is one of the younger linemen who figures to shoulder the load in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He certainly has a good pedigree as he played for a Don Bosco Prep team which won national championships in 2009 and 2011.

"One thing my high school coach taught us is whatever you can do, just be a winner and that is what I try to bring to this program, whatever I do just go and do things with great effort, great energy and all great things will happen," Samra said.

"I have never dealt with (an 0-6 start) but things happen, you can’t keep your head down at that point. You have to keep being positive and good things will happen."

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UConn alumni report week 7

The focus was on the quarterback matchup when Indianapolis played Denver on Sunday night but a pair of former UConn players played key roles in the Colts 39-33 victory.

Running back Donald Brown had 65 all-purpose yards and Darius Butler had five tackles in the victory.

Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 23-7 win over Minnesota
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Bye week
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis: Ran for 23 yards and had three catches for 42 yards in 39-33 win over Denver
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had five tackles in 39-33 win over Denver
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Did not have a catch in 23-21 win over Miami
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had one tackle in 24-6 loss to San Diego
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Did not have a catch in 17-16 loss to Kansas City
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had two tackles in 31-23 win over Tampa Bay
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Bye week
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay: Did not play in 31-23 loss to Atlanta
Kendall Reyes, DL San Diego: Had one tackle in 24-6 win over Jacksonville
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Had two catches for 10 yards in 17-16 win over Houston
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had one run for 8 yards in 24-6 loss to Jacksonville
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Did not have tackle in 31-17 loss to San Francisco

Monday, October 21, 2013

DeLorenzo makes an impact

Without providing any specifics, UConn interim coach T.J. Weist vowed that there would be some changes on the offense.

It didn't take long in Weist's second game at the helm to see one difference in how he handled the personnel.

Max DeLorenzo averaged just under 4 1/2 carries in the first five games of the season. He almost topped that mark on the Huskies' second offensive drive as the redshirt sophomore from Berlin carried the ball four times in a span of six plays. DeLorenzo had 25 of his team-high 46 yards on that one drive. DeLorenzo later accounted for the Huskies' only offensive touchdown with a 12-yard scoring run in the third quarter which snapped a streak of scoreless second-half possessions at 20.

DeLorenzo had a couple runs when he simply lowered his shoulders and bulled his way for an additional yard or two which is something that has been missing from the UConn running game in the last couple of seasons.

"We watch on film and Coach says why don’t you stiff arm on here, make a move here and I am trying to mix the game up because Lyle is going to be doing that (outside running) so I try to give them a different look," DeLorenzo said.. Last week we ran the ball well but this week other than a couple of plays, we didn’t get the job done. It comes down to making plays."

DeLorenzo's touchdown was his first on offense although he did return a punt 9 yards for a score in the 2012 season opener against UMass.

"It felt good," DeLorenzo said. "I was confident through the whole game and I wish it had be at a better time, with a better scenario, that touchdown isn’t easy to look at because we lost."

DeLorenzo could play a larger role moving forward as Weist tries to find some answers on offense.

UConn tried to establish the run early especially in the second quarter when the Huskies ran the ball on 12 of 18 plays. But trailing 27-3 at halftime, it was harder to stick with the running game . DeLorenzo only carried the ball twice after halftime with one of them going for the TD.

He was frustrated with the performance of the offense against Cincinnati even if the Huskies managed more yards on Saturday than they did against Cincinnati in the 2012 season finale.

"The offense took a step back," Weist said.

"We still have the players, effort wasn’t an issue in this game. I think they were focused, I think they gave effort. On offense our guys were running, they were coming off the ball they never stopped trying but we just had some breakdowns. We are not ignorant enough to say we are going to do the exact same things because if it ain’t working, you’d better find something. You can only go so far and say we have to get better, sure we have to make some changes and mix things up and that is what we are doing whether it is personnel or scheme, we have to find a way to put our players in better positions and motivate them to make plays. We are constantly working on it and that is a sign of a good staff being able to adjust whether it is at halftime, in game or on Sundays and Mondays get ready for that next game because we have an even better opponent coming up."

DeLorenzo is confident that the Huskies have the pieces in place to be a productive offensive team.

"What we are doing it is not good (enough) right now," DeLorenzo said. "We have talent and we have talent to put points on the board. If we gave what we played with (the intensity) in the first half the way we played in the second half it is a different ball game.

We have too much character. We work too hard, we have too much talent on this team to be 0-6. We still have time but it is running out. We just have to put it together, one play here and we were on the 2 yard line and we had to settle for a field goal and we missed another field goal so we have to score, we can’t be putting pressure like that on our kicker and our defense."

One likely change on offense could come on the offensive line but not by choice. Starting right guard has a cardiac issue and Weist said information is still being gathered on the prognosis for Cruz and if he can return to the field.

"He has a cardiac issue that we are still dealing with," Weist said. "It wasn’t really an injury, it is a cardiac issue and we have to determine exactly what it is. He has to get some tests done and I can’t really say exactly what it is just yet because we are not sure and we have to work through some things."

Cruz didn't make the trip to Cincinnati and sophomore Tyler Samra got the start. As the same wore on, senior Tyler Bullock got worked into the rotation at right guard.

"Tyler (Samra) at times played well and at times he was average and made some mistakes, he made a mistake down on the goal line that cost us," Weist said. "Tyler (Bullock) came in and was a little rusty, played a little better in the run game they just did OK, we have to be better up front."

Weist wasn't happy with the play of freshman quarterback Tim Boyle who threw three interceptions and was sacked eight times. While the line struggled to contain Cincinnati's edge pass rushers, Boyle made things worse by stepping up into where the pressure was. He rarely faced pressure when he quarterbacked at Xavier so that is one area where he needs to get better.

"He has to make better decisions and not turn the ball over," Weist said. "We said we are going to be patient (with Boyle)  and we really have to look at it but he’s got a lot to learn. Last game we felt like we didn’t have as much to learn as this game because this game he had more pressure, he had three interceptions and he had some turnovers that cost us so he has to make a big step to get better this week. Our receivers played better. We got Shak (Phillips_ back, he came back and made some catches. He is not full speed yet but he will give us a weapon on the outside when he gets to be full speed because Geremy (Davis) is playing really good. We had some young receivers who came in, Noel Thomas and Dhameer Bradley came in and had a good game, (Deshon) Foxx stepped it up and played better even after the drop, made some good catches, some good plays after the catch for us. I think the tight ends played a little bit better overall. Our tailbacks, at times they were productive but we just have to get better on the line. Max stepped in as a tailback and made some good plays, Martin (Hyppolite) stepped in late and made some good plays and we feel good about that."

Weist suggested that he is considering a change in play calling duties. If he goes that way, quarterbacks coach Shane Day or running backs coach Kermit Buggs so we'll see what happens with that.

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UConn commit wins national honor

UConn commit Arkeel Newsome made some history on Thursday night when he became the state's carer rushing leader. Obviously plenty of people outside the state lines were paying attention as he was named
the U.S. Army All-American Bowl High School Player of the Week.

Newsome ran for 396 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-21 win over Masuk. He broke the state record for career rushing yards previously held by former Ansonia High star Alex Thomas.

Newsome has rushed for 1,575 yards on 106 carries and 25 touchdowns for the top-ranked Chargers this season.

He is far from the only UConn commit who had a memorable performance last week.

Running back Brice McAllister ran for 258 yards and four touchdowns, returned a kickoff 85 yards for another score and had two tackles,  fumble recover and a 2-yard reception in Suffield Academy's  56-22 win over Cheshire Academy. In five games McAllister has rushed 59 times for 807 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Alec Bloom, a tight end at Ligonier Valley (Pa.) High, had nine catches for 153 yards and three TDs in a 40-22 loss to Homer-Center. Bloom has 24 catches for 486 yards and six touchdowns in the last three games and in eight games this season has 45 receptions for 830 yards and 12 TDs.

Logan Marchi threw for five touchdowns in St. Paul's 57-20 win over Notre Dame-Fairfield.


Tyler Bullock listed as a starter

The depth chart for the Central Florida game is out. The first major change is Tyler Bullock being listed as the starting right guard in place of Gus Cruz with Tyler Samra the second stringer there.

On his conference call yesterday interim coach T.J. Weist referred to Cruz's situation as being a cardiac issue. While it is not life threatening, UConn is obviously being cautious. Samra started against Cincinnati but Bullock, playing his first game since having his suspension lifted, got more playing time as the game wore on.

Shakim Phillips, who saw his most action since the Maryland game, is back on the two-deep as a starting WR.

Also, injured starters CB Taylor Mack (shoulder) and LB Graham Stewart (ankle)  not listed on depth chart. LB Ryan Donohue, who missed the last two games due to concussion (although he did make trip to Cincinnati and warm up for the game) is now listed as the No. 2 LB behind Marquise Vann.

David Stevenson is also back on the depth chart as a second-string CB.

Finally, Lyle McCombs is listed as the No. 1 punt returner ahead of Brian Lemelle.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Uncertainty surrounds three UConn commits at Milford Academy

It should not come as a shock the the frequency of calls to the Milford Academy football office concerning UConn commits Jordan Fuchs, Chasz Wright and Jamar Summers have picked up since UConn cut loose head coach Paul Pasqualoni and offensive line coach George DeLeone.

"As soon as they fired Coach Pasqualoni the phone’s been ringing off the hook, they smell blood," Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick said after a 45-32 loss to the Yale junior varsity team on Sunday. "I feel bad for those guys (Pasqualoni and DeLeone), I like those guys but they never got it going."

Jordan Fuchs' father was cited as a source by multiple recruiting analysts who reported that Fuchs, a tight end who was a Division I recruit in both football and basketball at Christ the King, had decommitted from UConn.

Fuchs, who recently returned to Milford Academy after a few weeks away from the school and football program, chose his words carefully when addressing his college recruitment.

"Coach P (Pasqualoni) sent me here and he is not at UConn anymore so I don’t know what is going to happen with that," Fuchs said. "I like UConn but I don’t know. I know Coach Weist, I like him, he is a good guy and what he is trying to do but there is that possibility that he might not be there and they could bring in a new guy and he could bring in a whole bunch of guys with him so I don’t really know, I am protecting myself and keeping my options open.

"I am just seeing how this plays out because I am kind of a tricky situation."

Summers, a cornerback out of Orange, N.J., is the UConn commit who gave an emphatic "yes" when I asked if he still intends to enroll at UConn in January.

His family has a history with DeLeone as DeLeone tried to recruit Jamar's brother out of high school.

"I was disappointed, those are two guys who looked at me, saw me and evaluated me at their camp, they saw potential in me so I was disappointed," Summers said.

"I am looking forward to the competition level, the big lights, the different competition levels that are going to be coming after me."

Wright, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive tackle from Woodbridge, Va., admitted he is opening up his recruitment.

"Coach P is a very nice coach and I have been able to sit down and talk to him 1 on 1, my parents sat down and talked to him," Wright said. "We have had him in our hearts since I committed to UConn but it is nothing that is going to hinder me so I have to keep rolling with the punches

"The door is really open for everything because my mind is not really committed to one school right now but UConn is still at the top of my list, I haven’t put them on the back burner, I still have ties with Coach (Mike) Foley so I am not really learning towards anything right now."

Chaplick said he talks to Foley, UConn's offensive line coach every week and that UConn will take in a Milford Academy game. Since UConn has the week off between the Central Florida and Louisville games, I would expect them to make the trip to see Milford Academy play at the Army JV team on Nov. 3.

The big day, however, comes later in the month as Milford Academy runs what is now called a fall practice but is basically a combine for college coaches the Monday after Thanksgiving. If Fuchs, Summers and Wright perform as well as Chaplick expects them to then it is likely that the interest in them among FBS programs will increase dramatically.

As for the experience of playing at Milford Academy, all three seem to thriving there.

"It has been fun, it has been a new experience in my life, a new chapter in my life being that I didn’t qualify for the scholarship but know I got my head right," Summers said. "I got a bunch of guys who are hungry for scholarships who want to go to I-A and I-AA schools."

Said Wright, "It was a very good experience, especially coming out of high school especially when you think you’ve learned everything in terms of the concept of football and you come here, you are surrounded by a lot of top quality coaches you can learn a lot. I have learned a lot as far as being here as a player, as a student in the classroom, a student of the game and an all-around better man."

Fuchs tells a funny story about his reaction when UConn recruiting coordinator Jon Wholley informed him where he would be headed for prep school.

"They told me in March there was a chance I would come here and also a chance I would come straight (to UConn) in June and they told me at the last minute, I was ready for both. I knew this would be a good situation for me because I could still play without losing any eligibility for college so even if I wanted to redshirt I could so I basically would still have those four years.

"When Coach Wholley told me where I was going, I Googled it and asked him where it was and I re-Googled it five times because I didn’t know where it was. Once I got there it wasn’t that bad and I am still adjusting to that."

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Hardly a happy homecoming

There was the possibility for some feel-good stories to emerge out of Saturday's game against Cincinnati.

Two of the starters on defense (end Angelo Pruitt and linebacker Marquise Vann) grew up in Cincinnati while interim head coach T.J. Weist spent the previous three seasons as an assistant coach with the Bearcats.

While there were plenty of hugs to be exchanged following the game, leaving Nippert Stadium on the wrong end of a 41-16 score wasn't quite how they envisioned their return to Cincinnati transpiring.

"It was another away game for me so I don’t try to eliminate the going home factor so I don’t lose focus on what is important which is playing the game," said Pruitt, who had five tackles. "I can think about now that the game is over."

Vann made his second straight start as Ryan Donohue missed his second game in a row despite going through all the pre-game warmups.

Vann had four tackles and returned a fumble 40 yards for a score in the game.

For Weist, seeing the receivers he used to coach help the Bearcats pile up 388 passing yards wasn't quite what he was hoping for in his second game as the Huskies' interim coach.

"It is bittersweet because my focus is on my team,": Weist said. "It is nice to see all of these guys but you can’t really spend the time focusing on anything else. I would like but I can’t. After the game obviously it is tough because a lot of their guys want to say hello but I am committed to this team, sure I would have liked to have back here and get a win, no question."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Another disappointing result for UConn

When the 2013 season began the leaders of the UConn football team believed they were well on their way to erasing the memories from a pair of 5-7 seasons. The way things are going, it might be time to build a statue for interim UConn coach T.J. Weist if the Huskies get to 5-7 this season.

The Huskies gave up eight sacks, had three costly interceptions and allowed 525 yards adding up to a 41-16 loss to Cincinnati.

UConn has now been outscored 82-28 in two road games this season with the next game at a Central Florida team coming off a stirring come from behind win over previously undefeated Louisville.

"I told our guys that is not us," Weist said. "We have too much character on our team to be representative of an 0-6 team but the season doesn’t stop. Central Florida, a lot of people didn’t think they could beat Louisville and they did and there is no reason why we can’t beat UCF, no reason. We are going to keep working and just stay focused, have a good week of practice. There is no magic (formula). We have good players on the team, we have played good players and we are just going to to keep getting better."

The game couldn't have started in more disastrous fashion for the Huskies as Brandon Kay hooked up with Mekale McKay for 56 yards on the first play of the game. By game's end six different Bearcats had at least one catch for 24 yards.

UConn gave up 388 passing yards and the problem was on both ends. There were missed assignments in the secondary and the three Cincinnati quarterbacks were not only not sacks, they were barely touched.

"It is tough but we can’t dwell on it, the season is over and we still can accomplish a lot," UConn junior defensive end Angelo Pruitt said.

Weist said the inability to finish off drives is something the team needs to get fixed.

"We are very close," Weist said. "We have good athletes and you can see it. We can move the ball down the field, throw it down the field and it is enjoyable to sit there and see the competitiveness of our players, see our quarterbacks throw the ball, see our running backs run the ball When we are good, we are good but unfortunately when we are bad, we are bad.

"We didn’t finish on some blocks, we got some penetration which really knocked us back. I tried to mix it up, try to move inside and outside with some inside zone and I think they did a good job of mixing it up. We got a couple of 3-and-outs that really stopped us. We couldn’t really get into a rhythm like we did last week."

UConn played without three starters as linebacker Graham Stewart (high-ankle sprain), cornerback Taylor Mack (shoulder) and offensive guard Gus Cruz (cardiovascular symptoms) who all stayed back in Connecticut. Starting linebacker Ryan Donohue did make the trip and warmed up but did not play.

Cruz's absence was the only real surprise.

"Medical issues we are trying to work through," Weist said about Cruz. "We got some information on him late in the week that we thought he was going to be able to make the trip but he didn’t but I don’t want to talk about those issues right now. There are some things he has a work out with our medical staff. It is not really life threatening or anything like that but just things we have to figure out when we get back."

Receiver Shakim Phillips played the most snaps since he injured his hamstring on a 75-yard touchdown catch against Maryland. Phillips had three catches for 38 yards.

"He wasn’t really full speed because he is still feeling out that hamstring but I think he made it through the game doing what he did will make a big difference for us for the rest of the season," Weist said.

Three starters out for UConn

Three starters did not make the trip for UConn.

Linebacker Graham Stewart (ankle) and cornerback Taylor Mack (shoulder) were considered to be doubtful so their absences are not a surprise. However, starting guard Gus Cruz (cardiovascular symptoms) was the surprise among the three. Sophomore Tyler Samra will get his first start for the Huskies

Friday, October 18, 2013

Uncertainty driving Phillips crazy

A week ago at this time Shakim Phillips thought he had finally overcome his troublesome hamstring issues.

After missing two games after tweaking his hamstring during a 75-yard touchdown reception against Maryland Phillips was able to practice and returned to action against South Florida. Then, six plays later Phillips found himself back on the sidelines.

Phillips has gotten back on the practice field and even he doesn't know what his status is for tomorrow's game against Cincinnati.

"You think you are ready to go, you do certain things and you feel fine and then you actually get out on the field and you are really competing, battling and you are trying to do certain things and you can’t do it," Phillips said. "It is frustrating because hamstring injuries are nagging injuries and you never know when it exactly is healed. We didn’t want to hurt is any more so we shut it down.

"It got worse, it (gradually) got worse. The first play I felt fine just like in warmups and then I made a certain cut and I kept going, going and going. After a while it began hurting.

It is crazy honestly. I just want to be out there with my team and help us win. Now that I can’t do that."

T.J. Weist would love to be able to run the dynamic Phillips out there without restriction tomorrow but hamstring injuries are just so unpredictable.

"A lot of injuries you can put a timeline on, this one takes a week, this one takes a month but this one is anywhere from a week to two months because you just don’t know how severe it is," Weist said.

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UConn commit Fuchs back at Milford Academy

On my way to Cincinnati for tomorrow's game I heard from Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick who informed me that UConn commit Jordan Fuchs has returned to school there.

Fuchs, a promising tight end prospect who drew Division I interest in both football and basketball at Christ the King, was a full qualifier but took the postgraduate year at Milford Academy to get a little stronger and benefit from another year of playing football since he only two the sport for two years in high school.

Shortly after Paul Pasqualoni was fired I reached out to Chaplick to try to see if Fuchs and fellow UConn commits Jamar Summers and Chasz Wright were still firmly committed to UConn and that was when he told me Fuchs was no longer enrolled at Milford Academy.

Chaplick has been raving about Wright, an offensive tackle, each time I spoke to him and this morning he couldn't say enough good things about Summers who had two interceptions in the Falcons' last game giving him six this season.

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UConn commit sets another state record

While I was at Sheehan High School watching Hillhouse's Harold Cooper become the sixth player in Connecticut high school football history to surpass the 6,000-yard rushing mark, Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome was etching his name into the state record books once again.

The UConn commit needed less than 300 yards to become the state's all-time leading rusher and he nearly had that by halftime.

It didn't take long after emerging from the locker room at halftime to move by former Ansonia High star Alex Thomas for the coverted mark. Newsome went by Thomas' total of 8,279 yards on a 57-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter.

Newsome finished with 396 yards on 26 carries and six touchdowns in Ansonia's 56-21 win over Masuk on Thursday night.

Newsome added to his state record for most career touchdowns (145) and points scored (900). As a sophomore he set a record with 3,793 rushing yards and 62 touchdowns (also breaks the previous marks held by Thomas).

According to the national high school football record book Newsome is just the seventh player to score 900 points and is also seventh all-time with 134 rushing touchdowns.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Suspensions lifted for UConn OL Tyler Bullock, DB David Stevenson

UConn interim head coach T.J. Weist said that senior offensive lineman Tyler Bullock and sophomore defensive back David Stevenson have been reinstated after both were suspended indefinitely.

"We got Tyler Bullock back so he is off his suspension so he will give us some added depth," Weist said on a Thursday conference call. "It was more he and Warde making the decision of what is best for them both, going through the legal process. We said it was an indefinite suspension, we knew it was going to be at least one game with him not having a prior record and not having done anything wrong before we took that into consideration."

Stevenson's return could help fill the void if Taylor Mack misses another game which is looking more likely as Weist said Mack is doubtful and that there could be some nerve damage with his shoulder injury. Linebacker Graham Stewart is also doubtful while linebacker Ryan Donohue could be back this week. Weist said he is still in a wait and see scenario with WR Shakim Phillips and Brian Lemelle.

"We have to see what happens with Lemelle," Weist said. He practiced yesterday but no contact. He is questionable.

"(Phillips) practiced yesterday but not necessarily full speed and still day by day. A lot of injuries you can put a timeline on, this one takes a week, this one takes a month but this one is anywhere from a week to two months because you just don’t know how severe it is. Ryan (Donohue) is back and he is probable, he practiced yesterday it wasn’t contact but he did practice. Graham Stewart is doubtful. He practiced some but didn’t have a full practice. Taylor Mack is doubtful, still hasn’t practiced yet and still hasn’t showed enough strength to come back. (He has) some nerves in the shoulder, it hard to come back from, I think he will play but I have to see in practice. Some of the guys who I thought were probable (last week) didn’t make it (back)."

Weist said they made more game-type practices this week as he followed up on his vow to open up the competition at receiver and tight end following the issues with dropped passes last week. Weist said that freshman receiver Dhameer Bradley and Noel Thomas looked good and could have larger roles in the offense while E.J. Norris could see more time at tight end.

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Difficult senior season for UConn's Kevin Friend

This is not how Kevin Friend envisioned his final year at UConn was going to play out.

The veteran offensive tackle has been a mainstay on the line during his sophomore and junior seasons but even before his senior campaign got underway he found himself in the unfamiliar role of reluctant spectator.

Friend suffered a concussion late in preseason camp which forced him to miss the season opener against Towson. Cleared to play against Maryland, Friend made his first start of the season but fell awkwardly to the ground when he was pushed by a Maryland defender. Friend suffered a high-ankle sprain in the first quarter of that game. He came back in for a couple of plays but then missed the rest of that contest as well as the Michigan and Buffalo games.

Finally, Friend was able to start and play the entire game against South Florida. However, he won't be remembered for the crushing blocks which helped to spring Lyle McCombs for a career-high 164 yards or his rock-solid effort in pass protection but his inability to corral the ball on the first quarter strip sack which turned into South Florida's only touchdown of the game.

Still,though all of his trials and tribulations, Friend has maintained a positive attitude.

"It definitely felt good to get back on that field," Friend said. "I haven’t played, I had a couple of snaps against Maryland but that was it. It has been kind of frustrating this season, I haven’t been about to be out on the field with my teammates and contribute in the game. I thought I played pretty well, there are obviously things watching film where I could have done (better) but just getting back into football will help me but overall I think I played a physical game and did a pretty good job."

And what about that fateful play when he failed to jump on the fumble by Tim Boyle

"We don’t really work on hand drills and I wasn’t really expecting it," Friend said. "My gloves, they are not like receivers’ gloves so I went to grab the ball and as soon as I got it in my right hand, somebody pushed me to that side and and I lost it, it popped right out. That was the biggest play of the game. I guess I have to work on (falling) on the ball better

"That play is not something I want to experience ever again, having the ball to where we could at least punt the ball, at least we would have had the ball to punt it if I had gotten it, it did a whole 180 and for them to put points on the board it was kind of heartbreaking."

Friend's consistent presence on the right side has been sorely missed. Xavier Hemingway and Dalton Gifford both had chances to fill in for him but they are both still very raw.

"I thought it was great he was able to get the full game under his belt, it was kind of like a preseason game for him in a sense," UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley said. "He got a concussion during camp, came back during camp finally for the Maryland game. He played eight plays and he is out again with the high-ankle (sprain). He came back, I thought he played a real solid game. There are some things that he is going to continue to work on but he is physical, he is starting to move better. He is a tough kid, he is physically tough and mentally tough. He doesn’t say a heck of a lot, he is a quiet guy but he has really worked hard to make himself a better player.

"He is a guy I remember when he was a redshirt freshman, we had a tackle go down and he had to go in the game against Rutgers. On the road you don't have a lot of guys, he gets hurt and he sprains an ankle and basically the trainer said he is going to be out and he said ‘I am ready to go.’ He went back out there and that just shows you the toughness, he was back on the field when we won the (Big East) championship down at South Florida Mike Ryan was hurt and he couldn’t go, a redshirt freshman and they have some very good people on the defensive line and he didn’t flinch. I have great faith in Kevin and I am happy for him. Hopefully he has gotten over the injury thing and he can move forward because it is a big plus to our offensive line."

It felt just like old times for Friend and the veteran members of the offensive line as Foley was back coaching the line following the firing of offensive line coach George DeLeone. UConn, which came into the game ranking last in the country in rushing yards per game, ran for a season-high 207 yards which is 42 more net rushing yards than the team had in the first four games of the season.

"I think Coach Foley is really emphasizing just being physical," Friend said. "We have schemes where we have a person but if he is not there, just hit somebody, be physical and if you make a mistake do it 100 miles an hour. A lot of times plays are not going to be perfect and if you hit someone, maybe the other guy overran the ball where Lyle can cut it back and make a big play like he did. I really like how we can play physical even if it is the wrong person, you can still turn that play into a positive."

Foley was an incredibly successful offensive line coach under Randy Edsall as the Huskies annually had one of the best rushing offenses in the country every season. However, when Paul Pasqualoni was hired he brought in George DeLeone to run the offense and take over the offensive line coaching duties. Foley moved to work with the tight ends.

In his first game back working with the offensive line Foley said there wasn't too much that he changed. He said there was only a couple of new plays which was brought out because he thought they would be successful against USF.

"There is one new play that we ran that we didn’t run before, a second play in our book that we didn’t run much," Foley said. "It is really an emphasis on what we did because those plays would be good against South Florida and you try to match up the run game.

"I liked the way they responded. I think they all have great respect for Coach DeLeone, it was a tough situation and it probably did help, particularly the older guys I have worked with them before so they had a feel for what I was like as a position coach so it is just the way it is, unfortunately it happened but I think they responded well."

Of course the strip sack is the one play most casual observers will recall from that game. At first glance it looked simply like left tackle was beaten off the edge and was responsible for giving up a defensive touchdown for the second week in a row. Foley said that is not the case.

"We gave up three sacks, I thought we had pretty good protection," Foley said. "The big run, Lyle’s run the receivers did a real good job, the offensive line did a good job and got him to the second level and the receivers did a great job blocking down the field. Protection is the same thing, it takes all 11 guys, the quarterback has to get the ball out of his hands, receivers have to get open, you can’t cut guys free out front, the back if he has a pickup has to make it. To me we gave up three sacks but two real sacks, the one that people wouldn’t think that was a big play and a couple of people had their hands in that one. Jimmy got his depth, turned his shoulders a little bit early, then you look at it and you have a young quarterback he is supposed to be at nine yards and he is at 12 and Jimmy pushes the guy by, that happens but you can’t let that one play take you down. We responded on the next series and Lyle has a big run. It is unfortunate but we have to recover that fumble, we have to chase that guy down and make them line up again."

Finally, Foley did answer a question I had about the offensive line and that is where Paul Nwokeji was when Friend was unable to play. I remember during preseason camp Nwokeji getting some first team reps at right tackle but DeLeone went to Hemingway and Gifford when Friend was unable to play.

"He hurt his elbow and some of that (time with the first and second-team offense) had to do with our depth, he was in the rotation, he is developing as a player right now some of those guys are back," Foley said.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

UConn recruit making up for lost time

UConn commit Arkeel Newsome has run for 1,184 yards and 19 TDs this year
Last year when Arkeel Newsome was getting ready to lead his Ansonia High team against neighboring Derby he still had memories of a career-high 401-yard rushing effort against the Red Raiders as a sophomore. However, any hopes of putting up more gaudy numbers against Derby ended when he was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

The 34 rushing yards in the 2012 showdown against Derby were the fewest for the UConn commit in a game since he became the Chargers' No. 1 back and it was also the only time in the last three seasons that Newsome failed to score more than one touchdown.

Newsome was certainly healthy this time around as he played into the fourth quarter and finished with 315 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-28 victory.

"Last year I got injured on the first series so that was a bit of a motivator and just because it is a big rivalry game," Newsome said after his eighth career 300-yard rushing game. "I feel like I had to come back and redeem myself."

Newsome became the second player in Connecticut high school football history to run for more than 8,000 career yards. He needs 278 yards in Thursday's game against Masuk to break the state record held by former Ansonia High star Alex Thomas. Newsome also extended his state records for touchdowns scored and points scored to 139 and 858.

According to the National High School Football Record book, Newsome's 127 career rushing touchdowns is 11th all-time and one behind two players including current Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno.

Newsome wasn't the only UConn commit to have a huge game last week as tight end Alec Bloom caught 10 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-29 loss to Penns Manor. Bloom has 36 catches for 677 yards and nine touchdowns in six games this season. Also, Justin Noye returned two punts for touchdowns and threw a 75-yard TD pass in Rochester (N.Y.) East's 42-0 win over Franklin.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sleep is optional for UConn's T.J. Weist

Perhaps the most entertaining portion of today's press conference with UConn interim head coach T.J. Weist centered around his sleep or lack of sleep during weekends throughout the football season.

Weist said he needs to watch the game film before he can attempt to nod off.

"Me personally, I can’t go to sleep without watching the game," Weist said. "I can’t. I got the game film. Right when I got on the bus I put the game film on. I have to either confirm my thoughts of what I thought and see what happened so I can coach the players, I can coach the coaches and get a true evaluation right away. I can’t just let it sit not understand what just happened so we can get better.

"(He was) pleased in some areas because you never have a great sense for the effort, you can feel it on the field, you can feel the energy but you don’t have a feel for the overall effort because you don’t watch everyone. I was pleased with our effort. The rest of it you don’t see a lot of things on all the special teams, all the penalties that happened. I always have to judge the penalties, were the called right and where they called wrong? I may argue during the game which doesn’t help much with the referees but I still have to get the feel for what was called and what wasn’t called. It helps me to watch every play, the obvious plays when we should have made plays those were obvious when we watched the film. Watched it again and again."

Naturally I had to ask Weist that if he couldn't sleep before watching the film, how does watching what transpired in the 13-10 loss to South Florida impact his sleep pattern.

"Sleep pattern? There is no sleep pattern, there is not much sleep," Weist said. "On Friday night there is not much sleep because you are thinking about everything that is going to happen and Saturday night you are thinking about everything that just happened so you try to relax, you try to watch other games but you can’t, you are so focused on what just happened and how we can make it better and what needs to be done the next game. Not a lot of sleep, I don’t know if coaches have a sleep pattern."

Weist also reacted to Kenbrell Thompkins, a receiver he coached at Cincinnati, making the game-winning 27-yard TD catch with 5 seconds remaining to lift the New England Patriots to a 30-27 win over New Orleans on Sunday.

"I am not surprised with KT," Weist said. "He is a player that helped us win a lot of games at Cincinnati, he is a very competitive guy. His cousin is Antonio Brown, he is from Miami and he comes and works out with all the great wide receivers and he did that when he was at Cincinnati. He fully understood the NFL game before he even got there, when he got there he struggled to learn the speed of the game but I knew he would keep working to get better and there is no surprise that he made that catch and I will not be surprised when he continues to have success."

On a more serious subject, Weist said UConn players will wear a No. 77 sticker on their helmets in memory of Cincinnati freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick who died in a car accident last month.

"I think it is an appropriate gesture for us and seeing when other teams did things for us with Jasper Howard, it was the right thing to do," Weist said.


Andrew Adams thrilled to be back for UConn

When Andrew Adams went down during a blocking drill late in preseason camp the hope was that the sophomore defensive back could be back in action by November. However, Adams wasn't about to wait that long to get back on the field.

Adams' hard work was rewarded as he saw his first action of the 2013 season less than two months after suffering a shoulder injury which required surgery.

Adams was brought into the game on the first defensive series and played about 20 snaps. He was credited with an unassisted tackle in the 13-10 loss to South Florida.

"I did a lot of hard work in the training room, I am blessed to be out there this early," Adams said.

"I was pretty fired up and I was waiting for that moment, when it came I was pretty emotional."

Adams was injured in a blocking drill between receivers and defensive backs. Adams locked up with Geremy Davis and neither player was in a hurry to disengage even after the drill was over. Finally Adams fell hard to the ground and hurt his shoulder.

"I didn’t know how bad it was," Adams said. "I couldn’t really move my arm but I had my shoulder pads on so when I went over to the side, I wasn’t in too much pain but he (UConn athletic trainer Bob Howard) saw the bone sticking up and he wasn’t sure (of the severity). He got x-rays and it was a Grade 5 AC joint tear so that was when I knew it was pretty bad. From that point on I said if I wanted to get back, I have to focus on hard work and I set my mind to it."

Adams said he had surgery five days after suffering the injury and he recently was able to resume lifting.

"I have full range of motion so really I am trying to get my full strength back," Adams said.

"It was tough (to miss the first four games) but things happen and God has a plan for me and if I keep working I will be in the position I want to be in."

If there is a silver lining it is that Obi Melifonwu has stepped in and played well as a starting safety.

"He has stepped in for me and he is doing a good job and I am proud of him, we go over film together and we have a close relationship," Adams said. "I try to communicate, communication back there is the key and we have to take over the communication and if everybody back there is on the same page, we will be one of the top secondaries in the country."


UConn alumni report: Week 6

Sacks by former teammates Sio Moore and Kendall Reyes highlighted the performances by former UConn players during week 6 of the NFL season. It is Reyes' second sack in the last three games and in his last 13 games he has 7.5 sacks while Moore recorded his first regular-season sack on Kansas City's first offensive play.

Here's a look at how the former Huskies did in week 6.
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 27-21 loss to Chicago
Tyvon Branch, S Oakland: Did not play (leg)
Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis: Ran for 15 yards and had 19 receiving yards in 19-9 loss to San Diego
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had one tackle in 19-9 loss to San Diego
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Did not play in 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Did not play (ankle)
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Had two catches for 18 yards in 38-13 loss to St. Louis
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Bye week
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Had two tackles including a sack in 24-7 loss to Kansas City
Dan Orlovsky, Tampa Bay: Did not play
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had sack in 19-9 win over Indianapolis
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Did not have a catch in 24-7 win over Oakland
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Did not have a carry in 35-19 loss to Denver
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Tennessee: Did not play (hamstring)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tragedy at Cincinnati hits close to home for UConn coach

UConn interim coach T.J. Weist got to know Ben Flick and his family pretty well when he helped convince the talented offensive lineman from Hamilton, Ohio to come to Cincinnati.

Following Butch Jones departure to Tennessee and the hiring of Tommy Tuberville as the new Bearcats' head coach, Weist moved on and became the offensive coordinator/receivers coach at UConn. However, when he heard about Flick's death in a car accident that also injured Cincinnati players Mark Barr and Javon Harrison, Weist was absolutely devastated.

With UConn set to play at Cincinnati on Saturday I asked Weist for his thoughts on the tragic events at his former school.

"It becomes personal for the coaches that are outside the program who knew those kids," Weist said. "I knew Ben and his family. We were involved, all the coaches who were at Tennessee who were at Cincinnati we were close with them because we recruited them, had them over at the facility had their families, (hosted them on) official visits and all of those things. It becomes less of a football death, it is about people and about families. It is devastating. We all have families and we all go home and hug our kids, you hug your wife and pray. It becomes less of an 'us against Cincinnati' when I step on the field for the people that I know who are still there, the players and it has nothing to do with football, it is all about life.

"I called to talked to the staff members, some I still know there and even some of the players because it is not about football. Our sympathies are with them and whatever we do in terms of recognition, we will have recognition for Ben and the Cincinnati program."

Weist wasn't at UConn when star cornerback Jasper Howard was murdered but he knew about the heart-felt response from coaches and programs across the country who did what they could to help the Huskies deal with the loss of one of their own.

"When our program went through tragedy with Jasper Howard, other teams reached out to us and did things to us for recognition," Weist said. "I have already talked to the athletic director at Cincinnati about things we can do to memorialize him as a person, as a football player. Other teams have reached out when we were in this situation and we will do the same."


Record-breaking Husky would trade achievements for wins

It was a day when Cole Wagner forever etched his name into the UConn record books but even as he was becoming the all-time leader in punting yards at UConn Wagner was in no mood for celebrating.

Wagner moved by Adam Coles to set the program record for most career punting yards and his seventh and final punt in Saturday's 13-10 loss to South Florida matched Coles' mark for career punts. Still, the Huskies are 0-5 with a pair of challenging road games coming up the next two weeks.

"I have loved every play here. I was lucky enough to start as a freshman and have a four-year career," Wagner said. "The records are great but I look back and think ‘man, I wish I could have had some more wins.’ Freshman year we peaked, reaching the Fiesta Bowl and haven’t been to a bowl game since and it has been frustrating. We have the players to do it and we all know it. We keep saying we should have done this, we should have won that game but we just have to start winning and we are running out of opportunities. The seniors, we have seven games left in our career and we definitely don’t want to keep throwing it down the tube."

Wagner had some issues getting the hang time and distance on the punts earlier this season. He averaged less than 40 yards per punt in each of the first three games of the season and the streak dates back to the 2012 regular-season finale. Wagner had not gone more than two consecutive games with a punting average under 40 and he worked diligently to get back to punting the ball as well as he did during preseason camp. He began to strike the ball better in the loss to Buffalo setting the stage for one of the best games of his collegiate career. Wagner had a career-high six punts inside the 20.

"I am hitting the ball with confidence which is the most important thing," Wagner said. "I went back, I was hitting the ball really well in camp and I went back to watch what I was doing there. I was just getting the ball too far out in front of me so I was getting the ball back into my sweet spot, swinging easier. It is just confidence, I hadn’t hit the ball well at practice. I hit the ball well in warmups, I hit the ball well in practice and hit the ball well in games."

The first six times Wagner punted the ball South Florida was pinned inside the 15 yard line. He had punts down on the 2 and 3 and three other times the result was a fair catch. The only two times the Bulls got a return a punt by Wagner they managed a total of six yards. Freshman Noel Thomas made the highlights for downing both punts inside the five.

"That is the biggest play we can have and the biggest play we can do for our team," Wagner said. "I tell them when I am around them, don’t he is the left gunner and my pooch (punt) is always coming left. I tell him it is coming, he has done a nice job of getting down there and making the plays. We had some that got away from us that we had the ball there but we didn’t make the plays."

Already owning the UConn record with 11,051 punting yards (Coles had 10,904 yards from 2000-03) and sharing the school mark with 271 punts, he has a chance at another mark. California's Nick Harris set the FBS record with 322 career punts from 1997-2000 meaning that Wagner would have to average 7.3 punts a game the rest of the way. Of course that is one record I am sure Wagner could do without because it would be a reflection on how much the Huskies offense has struggled over the last four seasons. For those wondering, Cal had four straight losing seasons and a 15-29 record while Harris was the punter.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clock mismanagement dooms UConn

Despite all of the missed steps, the blocked field goal and a sack that turned into South Florida's only touchdown, UConn has in position to possibly send the first game during the T.J. Weist/Tim Boyle era into overtime.

Boyle had just hooked up with fellow true freshman Dhameer Bradley for a 16-yard completion with 16 seconds to play. With the clock stopping while the officials set the chains, the Huskies needed to either quickly snap the ball and spike it or call a timeout. They did neither. Nearly 10 seconds ran off the clock before Weist finally used UConn's final timeout.

No longer able to try to pick up the 15-20 yards to give Chad Christen a chance to attempt the game-tying field goal, the Huskies were left with little choice but to have Boyle loft a pass into the end zone and hope Geremy Davis could make the catch. However, a pair of South Florida defenders were in better position and the Bulls' Mark Joyce made a play to knock the pass down to give the Bulls a 13-10 victory.

Weist, who doubles as UConn’s offensive coordinator, took the blame for the disarray at the end of the game which dropped UConn to 0-5 for the first time since 1977. A loss to Cincinnati next week and the Huskies will open the season with six straight losses for just the third time since 1935.

“This loss is on me, it is my responsibility to win this game and we didn’t,” said Weist, who was named interim coach on Sept. 30 after UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel fired head coach Paul Pasqualoni. “We had the opportunity, the defense played a great game and didn’t allow a touchdown and they gave us every opportunity on offense with field position, they gave us every chance to make play
“I am calling plays and I thought the clock was stopped at 16 (seconds) and it wasn’t. I didn’t make the play call, I was deciding what play to call and whether to call timeout and I didn’t and the clock started again. I made a mistake in clock management. I have to learn from it.”

The lessons will come with the Huskies trying to avoid starting a season with six straight losses for just the third time since 1935. They will take on Cincinnati with Boyle once again the starting quarterback.
Boyle, a member of three state championship teams at Xavier, was 15 of 43 for 149 yards in his first collegiate action. He showed the ability to make plays with his feet, running for three first downs but he was also hurt by at least a half dozen dropped passes including three within the shadow of the goal line.
Still, through it all Boyle had a chance to walk out to Rentschler Field with a victory, something he did in each of his final three high school seasons.

“I felt pretty comfortable, I didn’t get rattled,” Boyle said. “We didn’t execute like we planned.
“We are all football players, we all want to win coming that close and losing by three points obviously sucks but we have to turn the page.”

Connecticut back since McCombs’ 63-yard run against Syracuse in 2011. He finished with a career-high 164 rushing yards. However, 135 of those came in the first half.

The Huskies got back some key offensive players as Friend and receiver Shakim Phillips returned after missing the last two games due to a high-ankle sprain and hamstring injury respectively. However, Phillips only lasted a series before being sidelined again. Starting cornerback Taylor Mack (shoulder) and linebacker Ryan Donohue (concussion) miss the game.

UConn lost freshman receiver/punt returner Brian Lemelle was knocked out of game in first half and did not return.

UConn’s Cole Wagner became the program’s all-time leader in punting yards on a day when he had two punts downed inside the 5. He also tied Adam Coles’ program record for most career punts.

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Good news on injury front

Starting offensive tackle Kevin Friend and WR Shakim Phillips, who each missed the last two games, took part in pre-game warmups. Safety Andrew Adams, WR Kamal Abrams also out there warming up.

Cornerback Taylor Mack is not taking part in drills while reserve offensive lineman Richard Levy is among the players on the sidelines for UConn. Also no sign of LB Graham Stewart which is not a surprise.

FB Jazzmar Clax is also back in uniform for UConn

Lemelle hoping to making impact

It hasn't been the easiest of starts to Brian Lemelle's freshman season at UConn.

One of the most highly-touted members of this year's freshman class won the punt return job during preseason camp but in his first game disaster struck. UConn had just scored to pull within eight points of Towson and forced a punt. Lemelle muffed a punt that was recovered by Towson. Just six plays later Towson put the game away.

The next time out Lemelle was understandably cautious as he let multiple catchable punts hit the turf costing UConn field position.

UConn could count on Nick Williams, currently on the Washington Redskins practice squad, to make big plays in the punt-return game. However, UConn ranks 113th out of 123 teams in punt returns this season and the Huskies have managed just 22 punt return yards

Lemelle said he has made strides in that department and is hoping to come up with a spark on special teams for the Huskies today.

"I think I am moving forward," Lemelle said. "The team is moving forward, it happened and I think them doing that (supporting him) helped me get prepared and more comfortable."

Lemelle, the all-time leading receiver in Pennsylvania high school football history, credited T.J. Weist for helping him decide to come to UConn. Now Weist is the interim head coach and he mentioned the possibilities of some younger receivers like Lemelle having a bigger role as the season moves along.

"I liked having Coach (Paul) Pasqualoni there but he’s changed things up a little bit and I like what he is doing with it, hopefully we can move forward from here," Lemelle said. "Things are a lot more energetic and guys seems like they really want to practice, that is a lot faster pace and we are getting after it.

"I think it is tough at time. I never changed coaches in high school and I guess it takes some adjusting. I think the off week did help, we realize what Coach (Weist) is trying to do and what the game plan is and having him coach the rest of the season."

Lemelle vows to be ready if he sees more time on the field with the UConn offense.

"If that is what they ask me to do, I think I will be ready," Lemelle said. "Coach Weist has helped me a lot, the schemes of defense and how to read defenses. Coach (Mike) Digman also as a receiver coach is showing me tricks of the trade as a receiver and how to get leverage on a DB. They have been showing me a lot of things."


Friday, October 11, 2013

Few interesting notes about USF game

Just some things I thought people might find interesting regarding tomorrow's UConn/South Florida game

The last six games in this series have been decided by seven points or less
2007: UConn 22, South Florida 15
2008: South Florida 17, UConn 13
2009: UConn 29, South Florida 27
2010: UConn 19, South Florida 16
2011: UConn 16, South Florida 10
2012: South Florida 13, UConn 6

Punter Cole Wagner needs eight punts and 162 yards to break Adam Coles' career punting records at UConn and we're not even at the mdiway point of Wagner's senior season which might be the ultimate indication of what a struggle it has been offensively for the Huskies over the last four seasons.

According to a feature by Michael Lyle of the Middletown Press, the parents of freshman quarterback Tim Boyle will be attending a wedding tomorrow and will not be in attendance when Boyle makes his first career start.

South Florida's top two quarterbacks have frighteningly similar numbers. Bobby Eveld has thrown for 327 yards with a 42.9 completion percentage and a quarterback efficiency rating of 93.76. Steven Bench has 324 yards, 42.3 completion percentage and 99.65 QB rating.

UConn is 119th and South Florida 120th among 123 FBS teams in total offense. South Florida is last among FBS in completion percentage and UConn is last in rushing offense.

Saturday's game is UConn's homecoming game, a fact that has flown under the radar considering everything else going on with the program. It is also the game the Huskies have chosen to promote breast cancer awareness. Fans are encouraged to wear pink.

It's been quite a ride for long-time friends Weist and Taggart

A year ago when Willie Taggart was the head coach at his alma mater Western Kentucky and T.J. Weist was the receivers coach at Cincinnati there wasn't anybody would could peer into a crystal ball and predict that they would be on opposing sidelines on a mid-October Saturday afternoon at Rentschler Field.

Yet here they are ready to lead their teams against each other.

Taggart is in his first season as the head coach at South Florida and coming off the Bulls' first win of the season. Weist is preparing for his first game as a head coach as UConn's interim coach.

There figures to be an enthusiastic greeting between the two energetic coaches who worked together for six years at Western Kentucky.

"We started coaching together when we won the I-AA national championship at WKU and coached a few years after that together,' Taggart said. "We’ve had some time together, we’ve coached together and we know each other very well. We had some pretty competitive basketball and ping pong games. Coach Weist is a highly-competitive guy like myself and we always challenged each other, I don’t care what it was, we were doing it was always that way."

Weist said it was inevitable that if the two were on the basketball court today he would end up guarding Taggart and Taggart would draw the assignment on hi,.

"I would say this, we are probably 50-50 because we respected each other," Weist said. "We used to play a lot of basketball, we were together a long time and the one thing we always did is we played against each other no matter what the situation was, who was playing GAs (graduate assistants) or whatever it was it was always me against him because we developed into the two most competitive guys out there. I would have to say we were 50-50 but I would have to say I won the last one, the last competition we had and make sure he knows that."

All the good-natured bantering aside, both Taggart and Weist have their work cut out for them.

Taggart has five true freshmen on the two-deep chart and had 32 and 28-point losses during an 0-4 start. Weist is the offensive coordinator of a team ranked dead list in FBS in rushing offense and in the bottom five in total offense and sacks allowed.

However, when they cross paths in East Hartford before the game there will be time for a quick down memory lane before they get down to business.

"Me and him have been friends for a long time," Weist said. "We have been colleagues together on offense, we have developed game plans and worked on motivation. I think the thing that sets him apart is that he is very confident, he is very competitive in everything that he does. He has found a way to bring out that competitiveness with the team, not just with his position but with his team. Willie was a great player in college, a great player at Western Kentucky one of the best players in the country at his level. Learning from Jack Harbaugh and learning from Jim (Harbaugh) he has been around great coaches, he was a great player and he will have success. He had success at Western Kentucky and there is no doubt he will have success because he is a winner, he is very competitive, he is very driven and he is smart and to put him in that kind of situation with great talent down there and he will get that thing rolling."


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The American Athletic Conference announced that it has extending its partnership with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. The AAC also announced a conference team will play in either the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Tex., (in 2014, 2016 and 2018) or the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii (in 2015, 2017 and 2019).

Teams from either the ACC or Conference USA will face an AAC team in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, the Southeastern Conference will send a team to the Compass Bowl while the opponents in the Armed Forces Bowl will be Army in 2014 and Big 12 Conference teams in the other two years. A Mountain West team will face an AAC squad in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

"We are proud to continue our successful partnership with the industry leader in sports television. ESPN has established some of the most attractive bowl games in the nation," Mike Aresco said in a statement. "These bowls allow us to play outstanding teams and they will also annually reward our student-athletes and coaches with memorable postseason experiences. Our fans will enjoy these great destinations and a national television audience will enjoy watching these compelling bowl games."

OT Kevin Friend close to returning for UConn

It has not been the easiest of senior seasons for starting right offensive tackle Kevin Friend.

Friend missed the season opener as he recovered from a concussion suffered in practice. He returned the next week against Maryland but injured his ankle after he was pushed to the ground during the first quarter. He attempted to come back in and play but simply couldn't put enough weight on the ankle to play. He missed the last two games as well. However, on a conference call earlier today interim UConn coach T.J. Weist said Friend has been able to practice all week long.

"Kevin has practiced, basically all week and he looks better in terms of being able to go," Weist said. "We are taking it day by day but he has practiced well."

That would be a major boost for the UConn offense as Friend's replacements (Xavier Hemingway and Dalton Gifford) are still a bit raw and have struggled.

When he met with the media on Tuesday Weist discussed the impact that Friend could have on a struggling offense if he were able to return.

"If your starting tackles are out on either end you’ve got problems. We haven’t had the depth, the quality of depth that we need to step up and take their place. Obviously we need that and we can’t go on the waiver wire to get more guys so yes he is very important for us, any offensive line that has movement, that has guys moving around."

Of the players considered to be questionable, WR Kamal Abrams seems to be the most likely to play against South Florida followed by Friend, CB Taylor Mack and WR Shakim Phillips. Don't expect to see either LB Graham Stewart or DB Andrew Adams out there on Saturday.

Weist said that Phillips practiced yesterday and today will be a key day to see how his tender hamstring feels.

"We’ll see how he feels," Weist said. "Taylor Mack practiced and he is still questionable. He looks a little bit better and we will find out at practice today.  Andrew Adams had a little bit of contact yesterday, he is truly questionable coming off of surgery so he is just starting back into contact from that standpoint. Kamal has practiced and he is almost full go for us and he is ready to go. Stewart is not probable, he hasn’t practiced for us."

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